||Virtual Season 2005
Episode 4; Romance (H/M, Mattie/Other)
words; 51 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
||All ten seasons plus
the first three episodes of the 2005 JAG VS.
||The last JAG VS... I'm
not a melancholy kind of person but this does feel weird. In the
past two years, the VS has always been a great summer project to
look forward to, knowing that once the last ep would be up, the
long-awaited new season was about to start. This time, there
will be no new season. This is a concept that needs a little
getting used to. So I'm all the more glad I could join the VS
team again for this final season, and as always, my thanks go to
all my fellow authors for their time and dedication, as well as
to Bree for the great site and to Cath and Steph for their
admirable graphic art. It was great working with you guys! Next
year, I'm definitely going to feel the loss.
||Concerning the story:
This is mainly a Mattie story. Those of you who are Mattie
haters, forgive me – but I've liked her character from the
start. Last year, I focused on Chloe, so...
Also, the NEXUS program does indeed exist. It's a joint research
initiative in medical anthropology, followed by the universities
of both St Andrews and Dundee in Scotland. I never found out why
it's called NEXUS, though. Also, the tasks I made up are
entirely fictional. For those who are interested in learning
I'm aware that on the show, Mattie's accident happened when her
plane was already back on the ground, but for my story, let's
just pretend it was a real landing crash, okay? Thank you for
granting me a little artistic license.
And three cheers to all Jack-London fans out there!
||During her junior year
abroad, two friends will help Mattie to finally fight the demons
of her recent past – leading to an overwhelming surprise for
Approaching the airfield
"We're losing altitude too fast!"
"I know, girl! I can’t keep her steady with those crosswind gusts, and
this damn snow is too dense!"
"Is there any way we'll get down in one piece?"
"Hang on, I've handled harder situations than this one! Just don't freak
"Watch out for those trees!"
"Shut up, I see them!"
"We’ll never clear them at this altitude—aaaaaaaahhhhh!”
September 24, 2009
St Andrews, Scotland
Panting, Mattie sat straight in her bed, her heart beating wildly. Beads
of perspiration had formed on her forehead, and she tried frantically to
get her surroundings into focus to some degree.
The first seconds were always the worst – the state between sleeping and
being awake when you couldn't yet force yourself to think of something
else. When the fear felt like a rope around your neck, tightening
constantly, yielding just enough so you wouldn't suffocate, but still
feel the whole pain of it.
The top left corner of her cupboard registered in her brain. The
windowsill. The desk and the lone cactus on it. Harm's model Stearman.
Slower than usual, the visual puzzle pieces fell into place. Quite a
natural thing when you hadn't lived in your room for more than ten days.
Finally, the figurative rope around Mattie's neck gave way enough for
her to lie down again and try to go back to sleep. At least she didn't
need to fear that this dream would come true – it already had. But the
knowledge of the statistical improbability of the same tragedy happening
twice did little to help her sleep any easier. She might just be the
exception to the rule.
November 7, 2009
Mattie's shared house
St. Andrews, Scotland
"What exactly did you say this was supposed to be?" Mattie suspiciously
waved her right hand over the cup she was handed and cautiously sniffed
the exotic aroma.
"If I told you, I would betray 469 years of family tradition." With a
smug grin, Harilal Kamath exercised a perfect mock bow to Mattie and
then sat down across from her. "Let's just say the tea leaves are from
controlled Himalayan cultivation at about 1800 meters altitude, picked
strictly according to the Ayurveda rules my grandfather taught me. And
it's supposed to ease the back pains you're always complaining about."
"Come on, Hal, what's in this stuff? I just don't want to risk trying
dope or anything." Mattie knew her grin belied her implication.
"I told you: secret Indian medicine. Drink it and feel better."
Arching her eyebrows, Mattie blew on the hot liquid and sipped, her eyes
never leaving her fellow student, who innocently smiled. An enchanting
mixture of herbal aromas that she would vaguely have placed somewhere in
between basil and jasmine, tinged with a hint of orange, registered in
her olfactory memory. Pleasantly surprised, she gave him an
acknowledging nod. "Well, at least it doesn't kill immediately."
"See? Now drink it regularly and I promise that when you return to the
States you won't remember how to spell 'back pains' anymore."
"What am I gonna get if I still can?"
"Spoilsport. I tell you you'll..."
"Is he threatening you again, Matt?" Suppressed laughter ringing in his
voice, Robert Brendan dropped his bag on the chair beside him and folded
his lanky frame enough to join his two friends at the kitchen table.
Mattie's eyes left her Indian housemate's and focused on the new arrival
who completed their student-household trio. "Don't worry. After last
week's lesson he wouldn't dare."
"Hey, all I did was try to acquaint you with my Aunt Deepa's special
curried saag!" Hal defended himself. "There's no way I could've known
you two are such..."
"Just don't," Robert cut him off with an easy smile. "We're just poor
weak Westerners and our taste buds can only take that much. Remember
Jill last term when she..."
"Jill wasn't even worth the curry I put into it, and you, of all people,
should know it, Rob."
Robert frowned. "I know, you're right. Anyway, her reaction was drastic
enough and she always claimed she liked spicy food."
"I thought she was a loser," Mattie interjected, blowing on her hot tea.
"Or did I get that wrong?"
"You didn't," Hal acknowledged. "But Rob needed eight months to find out
what everyone else knew from the start."
"I thought it took you eight months to find out she was cheating on
you?" Mattie asked boldly, eyeing her friend with arched eyebrows.
Robert poured himself a cup of Hal's tea, eliciting an appreciative grin
from his Indian friend, and sighed just a little exasperatedly. "Heck, I
was in love! I couldn't think straight. That’s never happened to you
"Never," Hal stated categorically, shaking his head in theatrical
determination. "My love is called Apple G4, and she can stand straight
Mattie saw Robert's eyes first roll heavenward and then turn to her.
Sipping her tea, she pondered what she might answer. Actually, it really
hadn't happened to her personally, either, but thinking of her parents,
she had a pretty good idea what her friend was talking about. She
cleared her throat. "Sorry to disappoint you, Rob, but that's never
happened to me, either. However..." She drew a deep breath and let it
out slowly. "I could tell you stories about reasonable people... you'd
never believe me. So I kind of know what you mean."
"Who might that be?"
"The biological ones?"
"Nope, my new ones. They needed years to clear their heads and come to
their senses. And that's all I'm gonna say about that."
"But what's that got to do with my curried saag?" Hal comically
complained, returning to the previous topic. "So Jill couldn't eat it.
Big deal. Actually I expected that much. But you guys, with your
Arizonian roots, you should have the spice gene somewhere, right?"
Robert lifted one hand to silence his friend. "Easy. I'm only halfway
Arizonian. My father's a deadly normal Englishman. So I don't count."
"And I don't, either," Mattie chimed in. "You're right: my mom's from
Arizona, her grandma's Iranian, and she's got Cherokee ancestors, but
I've never heard of genes being passed on through adoption. So, never
ever call me spice girl again, understood?"
Hal heaved another theatrical sigh and demonstratively rubbed his chin.
"I think I could just bring myself to remember that."
"Shelve the battle for later, guys," Robert said. "Anyone copy the exact
reading list for next Monday's Linguistic Approaches?"
"I was hoping you did," Mattie answered, finishing her tea with what she
hoped was a reprimanding expression. "I never get round to writing down
all he says because of the chick division in front of me."
"What was it today?" Hal asked with the broadest of malicious grins.
"Extreme-manicuring, power-shopping, or just marathon-telephoning? We
should all be ashamed we're not half as athletic as they are."
"No idea what the topic was. I'm sure it was something stupid of the
kind, but I really wouldn't know. The only times they ever address me is
to get my Statistics assignments."
"Which you always let them have."
Mattie gave them a helpless shrug. "Hey, what am I supposed to do? I
guess I've developed kind of a Samaritan soft spot. Ever since my
accident I can't refuse helping someone who asks. Imagine where I'd be
if my parents hadn't helped me out of that mess back then."
"Is that why you're so keen on participating in the NEXUS program next
time they let new students join? To appease your helper’s syndrome?"
Hal had said it grinning, clearly just wanting to tease her a little,
but Mattie still felt a sting at his words. All that her friends knew
about her past was that she had had an accident at 16 and had needed
quite a bit of training to get in shape again, that she had been adopted
by two military officers at about the same age, and that she preferred
not to talk about the past.
Not that she was ashamed of having been severely handicapped for some
time. But she wanted to avoid what had happened too often already during
her first two years at the University of Richmond: the moment someone
heard about her past, the way they looked at her would change. To either
distanced pity ("Poor girl, who knows if she's really managed to fully
come back to her normal self.") or distanced admiration ("Wow, look at
that one, how did she do that? I could never be half as brave and
tenacious as her.") – either way the result had been that real close
friends had been very rare, just because people didn't know how to
handle her medical history. If no one knew what she'd been through,
they'd just take her as she was: Mathilda Grace Rabb, studying sociology
in Richmond and passing her junior year as an exchange student in
Scotland to get an outside view – the perfectly normal 20-year-old
Recently, this explanation had become something Mattie clung to more
firmly than she would have liked. It helped her push away another, more
unsettling truth: the further Mattie had moved on, creating an
independent life after her long period of disability, reaching next to
normal circumstances that she wouldn't have thought possible a few years
ago, the more her subsequent mental relaxation had begun to open the
doors to the psychological aftermath of the whole affair. Held at bay
through her long, stressful rehab and the search for her new self, now
the memories of the actual accident were really starting to haunt her,
and Mattie hadn't yet dared try to figure out how to handle them.
Instead, she kept convincing herself she didn't tell her story to anyone
so as to not alter people's perception of her.
Still, sometimes, in conversations as these, she wished she could ignore
the fear and break with her need-to-know policy – to let her friends in
on her story: how she had all but given up on herself. Just how painful
rehab had been; how she had nearly lost it more times than she could
count. It had been Harm's and Mac's constant active help that had made
her pull through. Without knowing those facts her friends simply
couldn't understand her constant need to help. Wasn't it natural she
should feel the urge to pass on what she had received herself? To assist
when a possibility presented itself – even if her constant readiness
indeed resembled a helper's syndrome?
And what better way than to do it through the NEXUS? A joint research
program in medical anthropology that focused on improving children's and
young people's chances of overcoming problems in connection not only
with chronic illness, but also with lifestyles, identity, or race. Ever
since Mattie had learned about St Andrews' participation in the program,
she had decided she'd spend her junior year as a volunteer with the
program, sharing what had been so difficult for her to endure. As an
undergraduate, she knew she couldn't officially partake in the research,
but opportunities to do interviews and work with the graduates and the
PhD candidates always presented themselves.
At the same time, NEXUS was a great opportunity to already gain
firsthand practical experience working with people in the field Mattie
wanted to specialize in later on in law school: social and family law.
Somehow, her own life had made her a double expert in that. So, getting
good out of the bad, she felt she was predestined for Robin-Hood-ish
lawyering. Add Harm and Mac coaching her on the arguing part... However,
Mattie was still reluctant to let anyone in on her very personal motives
for choosing her career path.
She hadn't found many close friends yet, but Mattie attributed that more
to her being picky about them and not caring if she behaved like most of
her fellow students might expect of her or not. Usually, she only hung
out with male students. Mattie was far too down-to-earth and
unpretentious to share some of her female classmates' passion for
fashion and chasing potential boyfriends.
This year, her natural tendency to become buddies with male students
more easily than with girls was aggravated by an additional fact: Mattie
shared a house with Robert Brendan, the dark-haired, green-eyed, tall,
sportive prince charming of the junior class. And what was more: he
seemed to enjoy being friends with her when he normally reacted rather
reservedly to most attempts at conquering him. Not exactly a
constellation to create many sympathies for the girl from across the
Initially, Mattie had been disappointed that she hadn't found
accommodation in a student dorm. She had hoped the closer contact with
her fellow students would have made it easier to find the kind of
friends she was looking for. But when she had come across advertisements
for flat and house sharing, she had immediately made a few presentation
appointments, flown over for spring break and driven up to Scotland with
Harm who had insisted on seeing for himself where she'd live – and with
Rob's and Hal's slightly chaotic but cozy brick house in picturesque
old-town St Andrews had been their second place to see, and Mattie had
immediately decided this was it. It wasn't so much the house, though,
that had made her choose so quickly. Like so many old houses, theirs was
a rather small, slice-type of building in a long row of similar ones,
with only one room on each floor, making sports superfluous by the sheer
amount of stairs you had to climb each day. Pragmatic as always, Mattie
had booked this disadvantage on her 'after-rehab' account.
What weighed far heavier on the pro side of Mattie's decision were the
house's inhabitants. Not only were both of them doing their junior year
in Social Anthropology, just like herself, what might come in extremely
handy when the exams drew near. Mattie had taken an immediate liking to
the hectic, short, skinny Indian computer-freak from Birmingham who was
doing a double degree, combined with Informatics, as if there was
nothing to it, and to his best friend who was as unlike Hal as he
possibly could be.
Rob's open smile and welcoming attitude, combined with his exterior, had
instantly conjured up pictures in Mattie's mind of what Midshipman
Harmon Rabb, Jr. might have been like, back in Annapolis. This thought
alone had sufficed to make her feel at home. Learning that Rob was
planning on attending law school in the States after finishing his
degree only added to the similarities. Harm's initial reservations about
seeing her share a house with two young men had lessened a little over a
gorgeous homemade Indian dinner with ample and open conversation about
everything a worried father might want to know about his daughter's
In the end, Mac had taken care of the rest: she had, point blank, told
her husband that a) he didn't have to project his own history with women
onto every young man in the country, that b) Mattie was of age, old and
mature enough to judge for herself and headstrong enough to do it, and
that c) he should be quiet and glad that Mattie had let him have a say
in the affair and a look at her future housemates in the first place.
Upon that, Harm had looked so lost in the face of double female power
that Mattie had engulfed him in a big bear hug, telling him not to
worry. She remembered distinctly hearing him mumble something along the
lines of "getting old."
Getting to know her new friends a little better once she had moved in,
Mattie had found Rob a lot more serious, though, than she suspected
young Harm had ever been. Although Rob often let people see his smile
and had the amazing ability to somehow always be in good humor, it had
taken almost three weeks until Mattie had really seen him laugh. And he
definitely didn't have Harm's women-killer qualities Mac had told her
about over a cup of girls-talk coffee.
Instead, Rob tended to show a surprising amount of shyness when someone
sought personal contact. More than once, Mattie had found it difficult
to swallow her giggles at seeing Rob turn into a very stiff,
old-fashioned British gentleman when faced with some flirting course
mate. It was only with close friends like Hal that Rob let show his
relaxed, sunny Arizonian side he had inherited from his American mother.
Sharing a house with him and Hal had immediately included Mattie in the
small circle of those knowing the private guy behind the friendly
Although Mattie had been living with them for a mere eight weeks, the
trio had become next to inseparable, Hal repeating over and over again
that he indeed liked having a female buddy around that he felt so
totally comfortable with, after last term's ordeal of seeing Rob lose
time with some undeserving girlfriend. In short: Mattie felt she was
incredibly lucky with her present situation that already began to
resemble more a surrogate family than anything else.
And yet – neither Hal nor Rob knew about her past. Mattie felt so
blissfully normal and comfortable with them that she kept pushing away
the moment of acquainting them with her past and the demons that hadn't
been dealt with yet. 'As long as there aren't any small planes around,
there's no need to tell them about my fear of getting on them,' she kept
telling herself, knowing well she was only putting off the decision, not
Until now, Mattie had managed to let it all pass with a simple 'caused
by an accident I had when I was 16.' However, this indistinct, harmless
picture was getting more difficult to maintain each time. So Mattie now
tried to parry Hal's innocent question with an equally innocent answer.
"Yeah, I'm probably feeding my helper's complex with the NEXUS," she
admitted, seemingly easy. "Everyone is entitled to some sort of complex,
"Does your helper's complex also force you to let me have your reading
list for Linguistic Approaches?" Rob asked with a nonchalant grin,
although Mattie suspected he saw her answer for what it was. Sometimes
Rob could be damned perceptive.
"I told you it's not complete," she replied.
"Not complete is definitely more than I've got."
"Take mine," Hal offered. "I haven't had to fight psycho wars with a
group of girlie-girls, or get some of the night's lost sleep in class."
"Shut up and tell me where I can find the list," Rob cut him off with a
smile that would have been just a little arrogant, had the mock
undercurrent not been so obvious.
"Middle pocket of my bag, blue folder."
"Thanks." Rob got up, reached for Hal's bag and began to rummage through
it. Suddenly he stopped and slowly pulled out a small light-blue flyer.
"Hey, what's this?"
"What's what?" Hal asked.
Rob held out the flyer to him. "I found this in your bag. This could be
Hal recognized what Rob was handing him and shook his head. "If we had
that kind of money sitting around, maybe, but I don't think we do."
Mattie deliberately frowned. "Uhm, guys, could you tell me what you're
"Sorry, Matt, sure." The flyer still in his hand, Rob sat down beside
her and put it on the table in front of her. Mattie took a look – and
couldn't refrain from sucking in her breath.
The flyer read, "Free your mind from earthly problems... discover the
third dimension." Underneath, the picture of an old bi-plane elaborated
what the title wanted to insinuate. And under the picture, Ian's Flight
School invited St Andrews students to try out flying at Ben Craig
airfield, north of Dundee. With the help of a generous St-Andrews
alumnus, the owners were able to offer special students rates, for
learning as well as for rental.
A wave of emotions washed over her. Horror, as the last moments before
the accident came to mind; pain, as the recollection of the yearlong
aftermath followed instantly; panic, at the thought of ever sitting in
such a narrow cockpit again, without the reassuring presence of a
commercial airliner's emergency systems, and yet, longing and sadness,
as she once again realized that for now, flying was out of reach – as
long as she didn't face the fear. It always threatened to strangle her
whenever she pictured herself strapped in her seat and gliding high
above the scenery – be it the Appalachians or the Scottish Highlands.
"You all right, Matt?" Mattie felt a hand on her shoulder and shook
herself from her momentary stasis. Rob was looking at her, clearly
"Want some more tea?" Hal asked, obviously puzzled.
Judging from her friends' expressions, the color had either drained from
her face, or she had to be glowing with too much adrenaline. "No,
thanks, it's nothing. Don't worry. Just, ah, the blood pressure," she
stammered, yelling at herself to be a more professional liar.
Rob only kept looking at her but never said anything. It was evident he
didn't believe her.
"Why don't you lie down a little until you feel better?" Hal suggested.
Mattie gave them a slightly uneasy smile. "It's okay, really. I guess I
might like some more of your Ayurveda stuff, though," she addressed Hal.
"If you've got anything beneficial for people with low blood-pressure."
Hal bowed gallantly. "Of course, ma'am. Just a second." Grinning, he
busied himself with the tealeaves.
Turning her head, Mattie saw Rob searching his bag for something. A
moment later, he looked up at them, his smile secretive. "I hereby
declare the flying season for open," he then declared pompously.
"What?" Mattie blurted out before Rob had the chance to say anything
further. Angry, she noted that distinct panic was palpable in her voice.
She immediately tried to mask it with feigned annoyance. "Come on, we're
trying to be serious here. Shelve that rubbish for someone else."
"Hey, excuse me," Rob answered, clearly confused and apparently a little
vexed. "All I was about to do was suggest we go flying someday. As
you've got a pilot at hand." With this, he held out what he had found in
"You've got a pilot's license?" On Hal's astonished features, a huge
question mark and a huge exclamation mark were warring. "Man, two years,
and you never said a thing! Not even when Matt's dad was first here with
her and he mentioned he was an aviator! Care to explain that to me?"
If she hadn't been so dazed with fear, Mattie would have teased Rob
about the fact that he was actually blushing.
"Okay, so I've got a pilot's license. Others got horses or yachts," Rob
answered, defensive and clearly a little uneasy. "My dad's got his
private plane at an airfield near London, so I learned. But once you
tell someone you fly, they'll immediately take you for some rich snob.
That's why I didn't tell you at first, Hal, and then I somehow got the
impression you weren't too interested in those kinds of things anyway.
And Captain Rabb might have taken me for the macho kind of guy. You know
how things are: you're most prejudiced against your own kind. Although I
don't think the captain's like that himself, you know what reputation a
lot of pilots have. So I assumed I'd better not let him know I flew, if
we wanted Mattie to stay with us." He seemed to make a point about not
meeting her glance, and right now Mattie was glad about it.
"Assumptions, assumptions!" Hal exclaimed comically. "Did you also
assume that Jill wouldn't care about flying with you? Or why is it the
topic never came up last year?"
"When I told her, she only said that nothing in the world could ever
make her get on a small plane, so I left it be." Rob fatalistically
shrugged. "And then, there wasn't any good place around for renting a
plane, too. Glen Burrow is too far away, and McCullough's really is for
the rich only. Just look at the rates. But this new place with its
student discounts sounds great."
"Okay!" Hal was all enthusiasm. "Maybe we can even do a tour before the
winter still! Wow, this is madness. What about you, Matt? Isn't this too
cool to be true?"
Mattie didn't know how to react. In an instant, her safe home had turned
into a place where she had to face the enemy head-on. No longer could
she pretend to shut the door and leave her fears outside. And the moment
she saw her friends' attention now focus on her, suddenly seeing she
didn't respond the way they expected her to, her fear of having to board
a small aircraft was joined by another that paralyzed her completely:
the fear of seeing her friends' appreciation of her lessen if she owned
she was such a coward. That she was a loser herself; that she couldn't
seem to get a grip.
"What the hell is the matter with you, Matt?" Rob sounded genuinely
worried. "I've never seen you like this before. You sure you don't need
a doctor, maybe?"
This triggered her fury. "Of course I don't! Would you stop sounding
like my dad, for God's sake?" The moment the words were out, Mattie felt
her conscience give her a hard time. She had yelled at Rob, and she had
indirectly insulted Harm. Neither of the two merited to be treated this
Rob's eyes had widened slightly in shock but he remained silent. Hal
didn't, though. "Hey! He was just trying to be supportive!"
Mattie exhaled forcefully, trying to calm down to some degree. "I know,
I'm sorry, but I just can't stand it if everyone constantly thinks I
can't cope!" She hated herself for getting so irritable, but by now this
was a pattern of reaction she couldn't easily fight.
"Would you care to tell us what this scene is all about?" Hal sounded
unnerved. "Don't tell me you're just as bitchy as most other girls after
Mattie glared at him. "Screw your stereotypes! And just so you know,
there's nothing to tell."
"Yes, there is." Rob's voice had been very calm, seeming to cool the air
by at least ten degrees. His gaze was more inquisitive than accusing,
making Mattie feel more uneasy still. "You don't need to apologize, but
I prefer knowing exactly who my housemates are."
Mattie felt her shoulders drop as she leaned back, resigned. Her cheeks
were starting to burn, and she swallowed her pride. To hell with it.
"I'm sorry I freaked out, but I tend to react that way whenever a
situation like this comes up. It's... got to do with my accident. It was
a flying accident."
Hal's eyes went round and he sat thunderstruck, but if Rob was
surprised, he didn't let it on. "What happened?" was all he asked.
Drawing a deep breath, Mattie braced herself and let her friends in on
her story. "My dad's got a plane of his own, too. An antique Stearman he
restored by himself, a real treasure. Anyway, he started teaching me to
fly, and I even started thinking about becoming a naval aviator like
him. So I began taking regular flying lessons with a local instructor.
"One day, they had predicted snow but I insisted on taking my lesson
because the sky looked fine to me.”
“Don’t tell me your instructor took you up with a forecast like that,”
Rob interrupted, sounding incredulous.
The interruption unnerved her because Mattie felt she wanted to get it
over with. “Yes, he did,” she answered, her words coming out a little
hurriedly. “He probably knew he shouldn’t have, and I know I shouldn’t
have asked, but I guess he needed the money. Anyway,” she took up her
tale again before Rob could say anything else, “the weather changed
quickly when we were about to land. We tried..."
She halted, swallowing. "I mean... my instructor... when we were coming
in, he..." Again, she broke off, trying to get a grip on her panic that
threatened to suffocate her. Trying to continue, she forced the words
out. "The snow was too dense, and then there were those crosswinds..."
Yet again, she had to stop, feeling a major lump in her throat. "I
can't..." she only choked out, resting her face in her hands and
concentrating on her breathing.
"You never said a word, either," was all Hal remarked in a compassionate
voice, not quite seeming to know how to react.
"Because I wanted to be just like everyone else," Mattie whispered,
never looking up. "And because... I just couldn't."
The kitchen was silent for quite some time. Eventually, Mattie felt
someone pat her shoulder and looked up. Rob was giving her a slight
smile. "I guess we get the picture. Just leave it be." He sobered. "But
you do know that someday, you ought to talk about it, right?"
Mattie sighed and pulled herself up. "I know. The strange thing is that
at first talking about it was never a problem. I don't know what caused
it, but at a certain point the panic attacks started getting worse each
time, and for over a year now, I can't even think about it without
feeling like I can't breathe."
"Your instructor – is he all right?" Hal asked, intimidated.
Mattie stared in front of herself. "He didn't make it. I was in a coma
for weeks, and I suffered a spinal injury." She heard how monotone her
voice sounded but she couldn't force herself to break the emotional
distance she'd built up. "For months, I was paralyzed from the neck
down, and it took me years to recover. My neurologist says it's a
miracle in itself that I did. I've never been on a small plane since."
Again, silence reigned for a few long moments, everyone following their
own thoughts, but despite the situation, Mattie noted she was beginning
to feel strangely light at heart, knowing that at least the lie was
"Well," Hal began, a careful smile tingeing his voice, "I've never heard
of an anti-panic Ayurveda treatment, but I might just get to be a
pioneer in the field... anyone care for some tea?"
Surprised at the unexpected, clumsy, but somehow cute attempt at humor,
Mattie turned her head to look at her friends. Hal's gaze read, 'Hey, I
think that was funny, don't you?', and Rob's eyes conveyed understanding
without judgment. Both combined, the message was clear:
They knew, and nothing had changed in the way they looked at her. Mattie
felt her eyes getting slightly misty and a new lump growing in her
throat. Without saying anything, she just extended her hands, firmly
squeezing both her friends' forearms in a gesture of gratitude. Also for
the first time ever, she didn't give a damn that her smile was watery.